Ever since the days of the Nikon D90, cameras designed for shooting stills have the ability to shoot high definition video as well. And matching the way that images are used these days and the expectations on photographers (particularly professionals) video has become an important part of the business of photography, including for me. The fact that my cameras could create movies did in fact lead me into work I wouldn't normally have considered. Industry, events and weddings being covered by me and my partners using both kinds of imagery. And the bulk of the cameras sitting on my shelf, from phones to mirrorless interchangeable, have the capacity to shoot moving footage in addition to their normal modus operandi. It therefore struck me as useful, for both myself and hopefully my audience to make some kind of assessment of how these cameras work for me, what I like and find useful and what I don't. So today I'm looking at the Sony FE A7r.
You might also be interested in all my previous articles concerning this camera > https://www.soundimageplus.com/search?q=Sony%20A7r&f_collectionId=541cb9b2e4b0ab6a6f724547
In terms of still photography, taking into consideration the 36MP and portability of the cameras as compared to medium (or larger) format, I would make the argument that the Sony A7r and the Nikon D800 series are the best cameras ever made available to photographers.
The Image quality, apart from the highest ISO's in the A7r is simply stunning and the fact that this is a carry anywhere small camera that in terms of speed, versatility and lens choice is way beyond anything Medium or Large format can offer for me make this so. Because you can take an A7r up mountains, through the jungle, or use it for studio, event, landscape, fashion, editorial, advertising, sport or whatever and produce those incredible files that can be reproduced the size of a wall and / or cropped severely. The quality / flexibility / usability / portability equation doesn't get much better than this. But this is a series of articles on hybrid cameras and their capability to shoot both stills AND video, so after nearly 17 months of extensive use with this camera, what are my feelings about that hybrid capability?
WHAT I LIKE
- This is not the Sony A7 (I or II) There is no AA filter to soften the impact of all those pixels. And it does make a difference. If I shoot with a tripod at low ISO's, like for the images above, then the image quality is second to none in terms of what I've used.
- The layout of the camera and the ability to get things going quickly is another advantage. I guess I'm familiar with the Sony layout now, having at some point owned all of the FE range. (A7, A7 II, A7r, A7s) but I still think it's a pretty well thought out camera. Not the best certainly, but certainly not the worst. (N.B. As per Sony A7II)
- For most normal operating parameters it's a pretty fast camera. There is virtually no hanging around waiting for things to happen. It's a fast reacting decisive camera, which obviously makes it useful for a number of professional work situations. (N.B. As per Sony A7II)
- Also as with the A7 II, the manual focusing function, involving focus peaking, is very good as well, It's easy, quick and reliable and means that I have no problems using my Nikon lenses manually focused on the camera exclusively, both for stills and video.
- The EVF / Viewfinder are both excellent.
WHAT I DON'T LIKE
- No XAVC S option here, so the offer is AVCHD and the 'stretched' 1440x 1080 format. And as per my comments about the A7II this is something we really shouldn't have to put up with in 2015. AVCHD is a compressed format allowing movies to be shown on an HD TV. Panasonic have dumped it and so should Sony. And there is really no excuse for a 'stretched' format these days. Not good. This is not to say that the A7r can't produce decent video, it can as you can see above. But my thoughts are the same as with the A7 II. The video from this camera could and should be better.
- Again like the A7 II no battery charger included. And again this is mean, penny pinching and inexcusable.
- The A7r has an even louder shutter clunk than the A7 or A7 II. And again I have to say, why is this?
- The lens range. There's is enough written on this already, so I won't go through it again.
The A7r is a difficult camera for me to write about in terms of it's hybrid capabilities. It's one of my cameras of the year and for what I take pictures of, it's hard to think of anything better. It's also capable of very decent video and in many ways I prefer it to any of the other A7 series, because of that lack of an AA filter. It's not a huge difference, but it does give the footage that extra sharpness.
THE A7r II
If Sony seize the opportunity, then the upcoming A7r could (should?) be an amazing camera. It has the A7 II handgrip apparently, so it will be better handling and hopefully when it arrives the redesigned battery grips will be available. There are also rumours that it will have an electronic shutter, which again is very good news. And not that I think they will, but if Sony dump the amateurish AVCHD, which will please Mac users since that is a very difficult format and has to be converted if you are an Apple user AND get rid of the 1440 x 1080 stretched option and replace it with a series of 'proper' choices, including 4K without the need for incredibly expensive add-ons AND include the 5-axis IBIS from the A7II AND come up with a new and longer lasting battery then we could be looking at the best hybrid camera ever and yes the best all round camera ever.
Because when it does arrive, the 50MP Canon 5D's will be available. But those will be big, heavy, noisy and without 4K. Better lens range obviously, but If Sony get this right (and I have no confidence that they will) they could produce a camera with mind boggling specs. that would indeed be the 'best camera ever made' and a professional powerhouse for stills and video that would outperform everything else apart from at high ISO's. 50MP would be a headline feature, but for me I don't see the necessity of that. There are already articles emerging that have compared the Canon's 50MP output to that from upsized Nikon D810 files and found the Nikon has better image quality, so I really don't think Sony need to push these extra pixels. But then again, it makes good copy, so I wouldn't be surprised to see it.
Again, it's this thing of getting the basics right. And Sony deciding that it is actually pretty important to produce a quiet camera that handles well, doesn't need numerous battery changes in high shot count situations and has proper professional video options in camera. If they do that and as I say I'm not sure they will, we could be looking at an absolutely brilliant camera. But then I suspect that Sony will go some of the way to achieving that, but will still compromise on that ultimate quality and usability. And that would be a shame.
Now they could well surprise us all and finally prove that yes, they can produce a camera that will stun professional users and finally wean them off their Canon and Nikon DSLR's and if they have the foresight and the desire to do that, then I'm sure their technical boffins could oblige with the necessary improvements. Because the market is fragmenting. The inexorable rise of the smartphone will erode the lower end end of the marketplace, but at the top end there IS room for an all singing, all dancing hybrid mirrorless camera. And whether we get it from Sony or not is out of all our hands. Maybe the suits at Sony will surprise us or maybe they will follow their usual pattern of amazing us on the one hand and frustrating us on the other. i.e. Sony being Sony!!